Despite their high nutritional values and well-deserved status as a superfood, chia seeds have only really become popular among health enthusiasts in recent years. But the small seeds have always been around and were, in fact, an essential food source among the Aztecs and Mayans back in pre-Columbian days.
Chia seeds have a number of health benefits, starting from controlling blood sugar levels, reducing chronic inflammation, lowering blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, and even contributing to bone health. But just how beneficial are chia seeds for weight loss, as the matter has been popping up lately?
Well… it’s a little complicated.
But first, let’s start off with some general facts about these nutritious seeds before we dive into their weight loss benefits.
Chia seeds nutrition and benefits
Chia seeds, from the Salvia hispanica plant, a flowering plant in the mint family, may seem inconsequential because of their small size, but they are actually really high in nutritional values. So much so, in fact, that the word “chia” is the ancient Mayan word for “strength”, and chia seeds were the third-most valuable crop in the Aztec culture, surpassed only by corn and beans.
In only 28 grams (one ounce or two tablespoons) of chia seeds, there are 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as B vitamins, and potassium. That same serving also provides you with 18% of the daily recommended intake of calcium, 30% of the daily recommended intake of manganese and magnesium, and 27% of phosphorus.
As for its caloric value, two tablespoons provide around 137 calories, and that’s not considering the fiber which our body doesn’t fully count as calories. If we lower the fiber, then 28 grams of chia seeds contain about 101 calories.
Chia seeds absorb up to 12 times their weight in water when soaked and take on a gel-like texture. This means they are useful in cooking since they can help thicken sauces or make puddings. Other than that, they are pretty bland so they can be added to pretty much anything from porridges, to yogurts and smoothies, to salads, to bread, muffins and other baked goods.
But how useful are chia seeds for weight loss?
One of the biggest claims that chia seeds help with weight loss is because they are so rich in fiber, and a fiber-rich diet has been shown to help shed extra pounds. Another of chia seeds’ supposed benefits in relation to weight loss is the fact that they can absorb so much water, which means it can expand in your stomach and make you feel fuller and curb hunger for longer. In theory, this should help you lose weight, right?
Well, there is really not enough research to scientifically back up these hypotheses, and the little there exists is quite mixed.
On one hand, a randomized clinical trial with healthy individuals showed that consuming chia seeds as a mid-morning snack significantly lowered hunger in the short term. In the study, the participants were given three types of mid-morning snacks two of which had chia seeds incorporated. On the days they ate chia seed snacks, the participants reported significantly lower scores of hunger, desire for sugar, and better satiety than on the days they received no chia seeds. So, yes, chia does help keep you fuller, which could be beneficial in weight loss, though this particular study did not investigate the seeds’ weight loss benefits.
On the other hand, a 2009 study which specifically examined the effects of chia seeds on weight loss and disease risk factors did not show positive results. The trial followed 90 overweight or obese adults over a period of twelve weeks as they were given either a placebo or a mix of water with 25 grams of chia seeds before their first and last meal of the day. At the end of the 12-week period, no changes in either weight or disease factors were detected.
However, no particular food has magical “fat-burning” qualities. Weight loss comes as a result of changes in diet and lifestyle and a calorie deficit. Seeing as chia seeds were shown to increase satiety, incorporating them in your (decreased) daily calorie intake could potentially aid your weight loss as you will get hungry less often, and so you won’t over-eat and ruin your diet.
But keep in mind, if you are trying to lose weight, you should not go above a certain amount of calories, therefore if you were planning to use chia seeds, count them in as part of those calories. If you add one tablespoon of chia seeds to your morning smoothie or yogurt, consider that it now has around 70 calories more. So if the yogurt had 130 calories, with the added chia seeds, it has around 200 calories. I think you get the point.
Risks and side effects
Chia seeds are generally safe to consume, but can in rare cases have side effects or risks.
For one, despite it being rare, chia allergy is not completely unheard of. If you are allergic to chia seeds, you would likely experience the common symptoms of food allergy like vomiting, diarrhea, and itching in the lips or tongue, or the more severe ones like experiencing tightness of the chest and throat or difficulties breathing.
Next, the Omega-3 fatty acids present in chia seeds may act as a blood-thinner, so people who are on blood-thinning medication need to consult with a doctor prior to consuming chia seeds as they could interfere with the medicine’s activity.
Another possible problem could arise due to their absorption of water since they could expand and be a potential choking hazard, especially for people with difficulties swallowing.
And on a final note, chia seeds’ high fiber content may cause digestive issues as excessive fiber intake has been linked to problems such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas. But to prevent abdominal issues, you should drink water in addition to your fiber intake.
So, what’s the verdict on weight loss? Well, small as it may be, existing research does not back up the claims of chia seeds benefiting weight loss on a large scale, as for example, almonds have proven to. But nonetheless, they do have several other health benefits which do justify their status as a superfood, so chia seeds in an otherwise balanced diet will do nothing but good.
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